Friday, 24 February 2012

The Longest Winter

No, not 2012. I refer to a book by Meredith Hooper in which she recounts the remarkable survival of the six men who formed the 'eastern party' group who had originally travelled with Captain Scott on his last and fateful journey to Antarctica, the Terra Nova expedition. Lieutenant Campbell, RN, and five colleagues were stranded by pack ice and had to endure the winter of 1912 in an ice cave. The book is called The Longest Winter and subtitled, Scott's other heroes.


For many years I've been captivated by the story of Captain Scott (no doubt as a boy aided and abetted by watching the film Scott of the Antarctic with the lead role played by John Mills). And then a few years ago I read the biography of Scott written by Ranulph Fiennes. I recall reading it on a lovely holiday in Croatia with my family. It was incongruous reading of the frostbite and snowblindness whilst lounging on a beautiful Adriatic beach.  I believe  I kept reading particularly moving excerpts out to my wife who had to tell me to stop because it was too depressing!

The Longest Winter fills in some of the gaps of the Terra Nova expedition and by using the contemporaneous accounts  of the six men who were stranded, tells an incredible story of survival. They were restricted to an ice cave for 6 months and with minimal rations depended upon eating penguins and seals, as well as using blubber for fuel. The detail of their physical and emotional stress is extraordinary and the writing is so good that it is as if one enters into the claustrophobia and apparent hopelessness of their situation.

They were truly remarkable and resilient men and without sounding too soppy, it makes me proud to be British. Our modern heroes are athletes, movie stars and TV presenters. Ok ok I wont go on... But there truly were, 'giants in the land in those days'.




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